Being Taken Seriously as a Student Journalist

By Emily Hecker

Student journalists. Sometimes this two-word moniker results in refused interviews or unreturned emails, like Meagan described. As student journalists, we have to prepare ourselves for rejection. Quite a few people have no qualms

Be prepared for closed doors.
(Photo by Emily Hecker)

about slamming the proverbial door in a student journalist’s face.

Are we student journalists rebuffed simply because people don’t take us seriously? If so, how will we ever be able to get interviews with people other than our fellow students? The answer is simple: keep trying.

Recently, I have been working on two articles for the honors magazine. Some of my interview efforts were futile, resulting in unanswered emails dangling in cyberspace. I anticipated this result and had not gotten my hopes up. I did not anticipate that anyone from the Iowa State Historical Society or the Living History Farms would reply.

Tools of the Interview Trade
(Photo by Emily Hecker)

Imagine my surprise when someone from both of those establishments returned my emails. I had written these contacts off as long shots, but they were willing to answer my questions. Thank goodness I was seated when I read the email from the historical society’s curator that said he would grant me a phone interview.

Lesson learned: you just never know when an interview subject will come through for a student journalist. If I hadn’t bothered to contact a few long shots, I would not have gained several wonderful quotes to beef up my article.

It is never a guarantee that everyone you want to interview will reply, but it doesn’t hurt to try. If we want other people to take us seriously as student journalists, we have to take ourselves seriously first.

So, how do you get people to take you seriously as a student journalist? What successes (or failures) have you had when trying to get interviews?

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7 responses to “Being Taken Seriously as a Student Journalist

  1. jenniferheartley

    I always try to go in with confidence. It makes it easier to see yourself as a serious journalist. However, you also don’t want to come off like a know-it-all. You want to be interested in what you’re writing. Even if you can’t always get the article you prefer, you need your subject to think this was your number one choice for a story. If you ask good questions and have some sort of previous background information, they’re going to be a lot more willing to talk to you.

  2. I get potential sources to take me seriously by using business formatting and a professional tone throughout my emails. Plus, I succinctly state my interview request in the email’s opening line to assure my potential source that I’m not hiding anything.

    While working on a story about handwriting analysis last year, I emailed a professor of handwriting analysis at the University of California. Needless to say, I didn’t expect to hear back. A few days later, though, she agreed to conduct a phone interview.

    • Taylor, I definitely agree that sounding like a professional is key to being viewed as a professional. I’ve also found that conducting a bit of research before an interview helps me to format more intelligent questions for my subject.

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve also had the pleasant surprise of getting an interview you didn’t expect.

  3. I think Taylor has a excellent point about using professional formatting and a professional tone in emails.

    To be taken seriously as a professional, you have to act like one. Be clear and concise. Be polite. Have a backup plan. Most of all, be respectful of people’s time. Don’t call or email people at the last second. Some people may not have time when you contact them, but they might have more time in a day or two.

    There’s no surefire way to get an interview, but being polite and not taking up a bunch of time helps a great deal.

  4. Jeff, I agree that politeness and timeliness are key in interviews. It’s always best to contact possible interview subjects well in advance in case they don’t respond and you need to pursue other contacts. Recently, I’ve been experiencing that delightful phenomenon with my article for DUH magazine. Ah, the joys of being a student journalist.

  5. Emily, I definitely agree with you here about that stigma as “student” journalists. Feel it all the time. I like to remind myself frequently that it is OK to be a straight up pest. Miraculously, referring back to my last post, a different PR guy for an NFL player I had been trying to contact for MONTHS finally got back to me after countless attempts. Unfortunately, it was waaaaaay past deadline, so I couldn’t do the story anymore, but I was shocked nonetheless. It just required a lot of follow-ups and a LOT of persistence. And I also agree what Taylor said. So to modify: Professional-tone pests.

  6. Have faith. I definitely keep that in mind, while I am currently trying to collect 400 surveys for my PR capstone. There are really awesome people in this world who will do anything to help, and then there are less awesome people who aren’t willing to help at all. Then, there are busy people, no time to contribute. Completely understandable.

    I agree with Jeff, always have a back up plan, and tell them exactly what you want– so they will know if they can help you or not.

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